Closing out another rousing season of Rock the Plaza is Zep Fest, the traditional end of the line when it comes to the plaza series.
With Beatles Fest as opener and Zep Fest as the closer, the summer provides a well-rounded presentation of local and regional bands as well as some reliably great performances.
Planning Zep Fest is Fort Wayne favorite Doc West who has overseen this event for more years than he can remember.
Down the Line success
“The inspiration for Zep Fest as the finale for Rock the Plaza was really the success of Down the Line,” said West of the annual fundraiser for the Embassy Theatre. “The two events were far enough apart from each other that they wouldn’t interfere. It was a great way to get bands to cover the music of Led Zeppelin, and the great thing about Zeppelin is that they do both acoustic and electric music so it’s a very dynamic situation for a concert downtown.
“Playing Led Zeppelin is not easy. It’s a challenge because, as Mark Hornsby from Sweetwater has told me, Zeppelin had a lot of mistakes in their music, and they just left them in there. So to play Zeppelin, good musicians have to learn to play those errors as well which makes it even more of a challenge.”
As the years have gone by, West said he enjoys seeing the family atmosphere for Rock the Plaza, something which is especially true when the music is that of the Beatles or Led Zeppelin.
“Rock n’ roll is now really a three-generational thing,” he said. “We have teenagers coming to these shows along with people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and into the low 70s. And they all love music like Led Zeppelin, and people tell me all the time that they love being able to share this music with their kids.”
Three bands will take the stage at Zep Fest: Bending Mercury, Rekt, and The Illegals. West is particularly excited to welcome back Bending Mercury who played last year. Among the Bending Mercury band members is Ruby Haller whose father, Kyle, organizes Rock the Plaza for the Allen County Public Library each year.
“The really emotional part of this for me every year is seeing things like Ruby playing because I remember when she was one of the Rock Tots standing in front of the stage dancing,” West said. “She was so cute, and now she’s all grown up and playing at Zep Fest. It’s just so cool.”
Ruby Haller, who plays bass for Bending Mercury, has been playing music most of her life, not surprising given her father’s influence over the years. But her attraction to Zeppelin was especially geared to one band member.
“I was really into John Paul Jones since he was classically trained and also played the bass and keyboards,” she said. “I always had a lot of respect for him and look up to him.”
Haller met her bandmates at School of Rock. Her fellow players now include Noah Werner and Luke Scheffer on guitars, Haiden McLeod on vocals, and Lukas West on drums. Haller, who also plays for the North Side Marching Band and Jazz Band, said that there are other elements to Zeppelin that are almost as appealing as their music.
“There’s a look and style to Led Zeppelin,” she said. “And it really changed a lot.”
Also finding inspiration in this year’s tribute to Zeppelin is Arthur Mock, guitarist for The Illegals who come to Fort Wayne from Decatur.
“The Illegals are super stoked about headlining Zep Fest this year,” Mock said. “We are honored to have been selected to play music from arguably one of the greatest rock bands to exist.
“The Illegals have a little something in store for all Led Zeppelin fans, especially the hardcore Zep-heads. We will perform some of the more difficult songs that most bands don’t attempt very often and that are rarely performed live. To take things even further, we chose versions of these songs which will make even the most die-hard fans lose their minds.”
Mock echoed West’s point about the difficulty of covering Zeppelin, but he clearly thinks they’re anxious to take on the challenge.
“It has been said time and time again that no one can ever truly replicate Led Zeppelin,” he said. “However, The Illegals are ready to step up to the challenge and rock these iconic classics with the justice they deserve.”
The show will open with Bending Mercury, followed by Rekt and The Illegals. West said Rekt will be ready to deliver the goods.
“They play with a ton of passion,” West said. “They get it on and come out like the Who with that kind of energy.”
In addition to the tribute to Led Zeppelin, West has also made a special request of two of the bands playing at Zep Fest.
“I asked both Rekt and the Illegals to play a song from the Woodstock soundtrack,” he said. “I feel like we need to give some attention to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. I graduated from high school in 1969, and it was just such a huge year for music. And for this closer of this year’s Rock the Plaza, I think people will really love that, to pay tribute to Woodstock.”